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Freedom House: Western Balkan countries remain hybrid regimes, decline for Serbia and BiH

Election day in Serbia; Photo: Tanjug

WASHINGTON – All Western Balkan countries remained in the category of hybrid regimes in the newest Nations in Transit report published by the Freedom House today. Serbia, which was previously the highest-ranking country in the region, dropped to third place, closely behind North Macedonia and Montenegro, which now share the first place in the Western Balkans.

The 24th edition of the Nations in Transit study covers events from 1 January through 31 December 2021

In order to reach the threshold of semi-consolidated democracies, a country needs to receive more than 4 points on a 1 to 7 scale, according to the Nations in Transit methodology. North Macedonia and Montenegro are now closest to that score, with 3.82 each.

Serbia, which was downgraded to the category of hybrid regimes in 2020, continued the trend of democratic decline, scoring 3.79 points in 2022. It is closely followed by Albania, with 3.75.

Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo remain significantly lower than the rest of the region, with 3.29 and 3.25 respectively.

Kosovo, however, is the only country in the region which has improved its score compared to last year. Its National Democratic Governance rating improved from 2.50 to 3.00 because, according to the report, Kosovo’s leadership stabilized after 2021’s snap parliamentary and presidential elections, the conduct of which showcased growing political maturity.

Judicial Framework and Independence rating of Kosovo also improved from 2.50 to 2.75 to reflect the resumption of efforts to reform the judiciary, the introduction of operational improvements across the justice system, and the opening of the first trial under the auspices of the Specialist Chambers, the report stresses.

Albania and North Macedonia saw no score changes in 2022. Montenegro’s score in the National Democratic Governance rating improved from 3.25 to 3.50, but its Judicial Framework and Independence declined from 3.50 to 3.25, leaving its overall score the same as last year.

According to the study, Albanian democracy was tested to its core in 2021 by the country’s tenth multiparty parliamentary elections since the collapse of communism. Much of the pre- and postelection public discourse was filled with mutual recriminations and divisive rhetoric by leaders of the main political parties and the president, which led to incidents of public intimidation, injuries, and even deaths during the electoral campaigns.

In North Macedonia, national politics were highly divisive in 2021, and dialogue was often strained both within and between ethnic camps. However, political polarization incrementally decreased, most visible in the SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE compromise over the implementation of the national census, Nations in Transit point out.

Montenegro managed to improve its score in the National Governance due to the diffusion of political power and peaceful transition following the exclusion of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) from government after three decades of dominance, despite the flawed conduct of the new parliamentary majority and the government of Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić, the study reads.

On the other hand, the growing dysfunction was noted in the justice system, as demonstrated by disruptions in the work of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court along with Parliament’s failure to appoint a new Minister of Justice and Prosecution Council for most of the year.

Serbia recorded the largest decline, in three separate categories: civil Society rating declined from 5.50 to 5.25 due to the intimidation of civil society organizations by government officials and progovernment media.

Independent Media rating in Serbia declined from 3.25 to 3.00 due to continued and increasing government pressure on independent media outlets and journalists, while corruption rating declined from 3.50 to 3.25 due to a series of scandals that point to links between state structures and ruling party officials on the one hand and organized crime on the other, the publication reads.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the National Democratic Governance rating declined from 2.00 to 1.75 due to, as the study describes, the gravest secession crisis in the country’s independent history and constant institutional dysfunction sowed by domestic political actors, exemplified by the ongoing failure to form a government in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) after the 2018 elections.

Civil Society rating in Bosnia and Herzegovina declined from 4.50 to 4.25 due to “the gradual but marked weakening of the civic sector, which is more alienated from the general public, less responsive than ever to current events, and increasingly prone to co-optation by domestic political actors”.

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